“Love Rites” sounds like a 1980s pop song title, and
doesn’t really match the grandeur of the original Cérémonie d’amour. For what Walerian Borowczyk shows in his final feature, based closely on
a novel by André Pieyre de Mandiargues (1909-1991), is truly ceremonial.
A woman (Marina Pierro) attracts a man (Mathieu Carrière)
and, as the saying goes, “leads him astray” from his daily life and work. Although
she straight-facedly utters such submissive sentiments as “Your wish is my
command”, what follows is a ritual of slow degradation visited upon the man’s
assumed sense of superiority.
Events progress in a ritual, even funereal fashion.
Borowczyk’s ability to begin with an approximation of the everyday (movement in
streets, a park, an extraordinary sequence on a train) and then escalate, by
degrees, into realms of the otherworldly and uncanny (such as a sequence set in
a church) is peerless. The fantastic shelters – or slumbers – within the
Although the loud and omni-pervasive “Euro cult” crowd
has, in recent years, reclaimed Borowczyk (1923-2006) – see, for example, the
spray of texts assembled in the book Boro, L'Île d'Amour (2015) – a full appreciation
of his art has yet to be reached.
Was he a cinematic voyeur, a mere fetishist stuck in
an outmoded, male-centred code of erotica? His films effortlessly transcend
those uncharitable categories; they are a world away from the likes of David
Hamilton (1933-2016) or Just Jaeckin (1940-2022) – both of whom have also had
their work revived in the Euro Cult wave, without any of the necessary critical
differentiation at the level of artistry or quality.
Borowczyk is – alongside everything else that he is –
a sophisticated modernist with an extraordinarily elaborate style. Look to
complex traditions of aesthetics rather than to regurgitations of bits of
Bataille to truly understand him. And go back through the entire body of his work
– not just the live-action “sex films”, as wonderful as those are.
Love Rites is hypnotic, and
its detailed texture is greatly enhanced in the gorgeous 4K restoration issued in
2021 by Kino Lorber. In the bonus materials of this release, the remarkable short Brief von Paris (1976) offers a clear
sketch for how the director would approach, capture and frame the same city in Love Rites. A candid interview with a
no-nonsense Carrière (Boro, it seems, didn’t spend much time talking things
over with this actors) is delightful.
Daniel Bird’s superb audio commentary on the disc begins
with a discussion of Borowczyk’s unusual cutting strategy, and never lets up on
the insights. It offers a model that should be closely studied by the many rank
amateurs who now populate this field of DVD/Blu-ray production.
© Adrian Martin December 2021